Troop (12) thinks that HM students should have more fun

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Kelly Troop

When people hear the words “Horace Mann,” they think solely of academia. They think of perfect standardized test scores, an extremely competitive environment, and a group of students obsessed with their studies. Horace Mann has a well-known reputation. It sends students to Ivy League schools, every child knows of the college process by the age of 14, and supposedly, we never have any fun.

Over dinner with my friend Leah Rakhlin in the summer going into junior year, we discussed this toxic image of the school and came to the decision that it was time to take matters into our own hands. That night, we messaged the presidents of the Happiness Club that year, Janvi Kukreja ‘19 and Andrew Rosen ‘19, asking them if we could take over leadership of the club the next September. Later that week, they messaged us giving us the good news. We were officially the new presidents of the Happiness Club, and we had big plans. We were going to change the school. We were going to get everyone involved in sports. We were going to play division-wide musical chairs and have water balloon fights and a slip and slide. We sat for hours that summer planning and believing that we were going to change Horace Mann. Soon, we would be a school with students who valued their work but also wanted to relax and have a good time. 

When we had reached out to our friends and familiar peers about our hopes for the future, they were in complete agreement with us. Since ninth grade, I had heard from countless people that they wished Horace Mann was more fun. They wished there were more fun activities and chances to step outside the classroom. With this in mind, Leah and I were so excited to take on our new leadership roles. We believed we would achieve our dreams so easily. We simply thought that most people, if not everyone, would be at every club meeting and every event and that Horace Mann would finally shed its toxic image.

And yet when the school year started, things did not go exactly as planned. We tried to plan as many events and meetings as possible, but the response from the students was surprising. We played music every Friday in the lobby, and instead of positive feedback, we received comments like “can you turn that down” or “it is too early for this” or “I liked it better when it was silent.” We then attempted a chalk drawing initiative in the early fall and we had to beg even our friends to attend. 

When The Record published an article about our club and its effects on the school, I was astonished about what my peers had to say. Someone had stated that they saw the club as a Band-Aid attempting to cover a bullet hole of the stress and anxiety students felt at HM. Another student commented that the music in the library we played during break was annoying, seeing that they would try to get work done during those 15 minutes. I was shocked. I thought these events were what everyone wanted. I thought that I was changing the school, but instead, I was faced with people who did not seem to care.

During my years at Horace Mann, I have met fantastic people, learned a lot, and had fun. It took me almost four years to figure out how to find the fun. How to join clubs that I loved, not the ones that looked good for college. How to be a good student but not prioritize it over enjoying high school. And most importantly, how to have the courage to try to change the mindset of many students who perhaps could not do it themselves. However, a part of me does feel like there could have been more. For the past two years, Ms. Bartels — our club advisor — had been telling us that you cannot force fun onto people. That, since she could remember, “everyone says they want to do a lot but almost never really mean it.” At events like senior movie nights, for example, less than half the grade usually shows up. And it was the expectation for students not to go to Homecoming or Buzzell, or stay for theatre performances or concerts. I think our school has a lot to offer, but this strong emphasis on academics has made me feel like perhaps I lost a part of my high school experience. The one you see in movies, where everyone stays for a Friday night football game under the lights, or where everyone takes part in spirit days, or when traditions mean everything to high school students. I do not know many other kids outside of Horace Mann who would cancel weekend plans due to large amounts of work or skip sports games or school-wide events because of tests and papers. 

I want to challenge the school’s students to go to that theatre production their friend is starring in, watch that basketball game and cheer on the kids in their grade, and go to that senior movie night. School is important, but if we as a community continue to push it above all other things we will miss out on experiences and memories we might never have again. These four years are times we can never get back, so why let the time go by?